A Brief Look at the History of Logo Design

history of logo design

When considering the history of logo design, how far back does your mind go? 1950? 1900? 1800s? How about as far back as early human existence?

The history of logo design doesn’t just extend back to the beginning of advertising itself, but it can technically be traced back to our earliest days as humanity.

While Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of “logo” does specify it as a symbol used in advertising, the idea of symbols themselves had to come from somewhere.

Companies didn’t just decide to start using pictures and words to identify their brand out of nowhere. Humans have always used symbols to identify organizations, groups, ideas, and more.

If you’re not only interested in creating a logo design for your own brand or business but in seeing how it all connects, join us for a quick look at the history of logo design…

1. Religion and the History of Logo Design

It’s odd to think about religion as having a logo. Maybe even irreverent?

The Christian cross, Judaism’s star of David, and Hinduism’s Om are all symbols that identify a group of people. It may not be a business or an organization, but it is still a symbol that is recognized as identifying an entire belief system.

No wonder businesses eventually took a cue.

When over 2 billion people follow a particular ideal or set of beliefs (Christianity, for example), and most believers and non-believers alike can recognize the two lines that make up their identifying symbol, then they must be onto something!

2. Medieval Coat of Arms, Markings, and Brandings

Just before the history of logo design truly becomes “logos,” other examples of identifying symbols would be medieval-era coat of arms or general markings and brandings.

Whether a family crest or a coat of arms, a family name may have carried an entire decorative symbol that identified it and was used in legal, militaristic, and educational matters.

It was a regulated system that eventually spread beyond families and even became attached to organizations.

Not only that, if you were talking about the development of products, you may have seen simple markings or brandings used for identification.

For example, a potter may have a seal or mark they would put on the bottom of a teapot to identify it as their work, or a farmer would brand an animal with a heated brand to identify it as their property. It wasn’t targeted advertising, per se, but it was still an identifying mark.

3. Industrialization and the Advertising Industry

Once you move into the 19th and 20th centuries, the idea of an actual company “logo” begins to slowly become an advertising reality.

Advertising agencies can be traced as far back as the early 19th century, but the advertising industry really took off in the late 19th and early 20th century with the increase of industrialization.

With industrialization came a much higher rate of production and therefore a larger market to sell to.

Businesses, organizations, etc. found themselves needing to sell their products and services to a much larger audience, and the idea of targeted advertising became even more solidified.

Pioneers, such as Helen Landsdowne created full-color advertisements for products utilizing concepts such as “sex sells” by promising a product, such as Woodbury Soap, would create in its user “a skin you love to touch.”

4. Logo Designs and Trademarks

The early- to mid-1900s is when logos began to become targeted and even trademarked.

For a long time, companies were using general and/or complex imagery to use as a logo for their products. It wasn’t so much a targeted look but a general look that evoked a feeling.

For example, many cigarette companies utilized nature imagery or nautical imagery of sailors, ships, etc. in an effort to evoke feelings of comfort, history, or adventure.

Eventually, logo designs became more targeted and designed to identify a singular company or product.

Think of Frank Mason Robinson’s Coca-Cola design or Paul Rand’s Ford design. These are iconic logos and still recognized today. They may or may not have changed slightly over the decades, but their creative intent and purpose have always remained the same.

5. Minimalism and Less Is More

Over the course of the 20th-century advertising has seen a move to continuously simplify logo design.

Look at just about any modern logo: Shell’s shell logo, Nike’s “Swoosh,” McDonald’s golden arches. All of them have in one form or another simplified their design.

Shell is a great example as it began as a complex design of a shell with detailed shading, became a colorful and flat design of a red and yellow shell with the word “SHELL,” and eventually dropped the word “SHELL” altogether in favor of the image on its own.

The Shell logo is simple, identifiable, and easy to understand, even without the copy of “Shell” itself.

6. Computers and Adaptable Logos

Modern logo design still has a history that can be traced.

We didn’t suddenly jump from print logos to multimedia logos in a single day.

Since the inception of the computer in the 1970s and the popularity of the personal computer in the 1990s, advertisers have been able to utilize computer graphics to create more interesting and adaptable logos.

Whether 3-D modeling or using computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and more to create clean and simple designs, logos have adapted to a world that consumes its media digitally more than ever.

The History of Logo Design and You

You may not need to know the vast differences of Mercedes’ logo change from 1902 to 1909 or the subtle and nuanced differences in Nike’s “Swoosh” from 1971 to 1978, but understanding the timeline of where logo design has come gives us all the benefit of proceeding in the future with clearer ideas.

Hopefully, this brief look at the history of logo design gave you an idea of where we’re coming from when we create iconic and next-level logos at DiyLogo.

If you’re interested in learning more about what we can offer you or your business, please feel free to contact us with any questions or requests you may have!